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Google Scribe: Another Example of AT Becoming UDL?

On September 7th, Google announced the launch of a new tool known as Google Scribe. Readers who are familiar with word prediction will recognize the value of this application. This new intervention is based Google’s autocomplete algorithm known as Google Suggests that has been available on Google search pages for years.

Perhaps more interesting is the array of initial comments and reactions. Inquisitive types tried to discover what sort of prose could be created by repeatedly simply accepting the #1 suggestion. Others, who had no previous experience with word prediction felt is was a fantastic creation or something that significantly impaired the typing and writing performance. Read a sampling of comments:

Google Scribe Offers Mad Libs-esque Suggestions Across the Web
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/google_scribe_offers_mad_libs-esque_suggestions_ac.php

Google Scribe
http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2010/09/google-scribe.html

Reviews of Google Scribe
http://www.googlelabs.com/show_details?app_key=agtnbGFiczIwLXd3d3IVCxIMTGFic0FwcE1vZGVsGIvu5QEM

Two interesting applications of Google Scribe have been identified. First, Google Scribe appears to be a powerful tool for mobile phone users who could benefit from the efficiency of autocomplete since they don’t have access to a keyboard. Second, Google offers a bookmarklet that enables users enter text on any web page using Google Scribe.

Certainly this is all very exciting news! Especially for technology innovators and early adopters. However, as we consider the design and implementation of universal design in education, what have we learned from this product release?

• Is Google Scribe another case study in how assistive technology (i.e., word prediction) designed for individuals with physical disabilities has application for the entire population (e.g., mobile workers, people with spelling and typing difficulties)?

• How does the availability of free tools impact the current model of professional assessment and diagnosis of the need for assistive technology?

• What role do teachers, professors, faculty, disability support offices, and assistive technology specialists have in ensuring that all students are aware of an open source tool like Google Scribe and/or similar commercial products?

• Is part of the process of making a claim that an intervention is based on principles of universal design for learning, that specialized tools, which are thought to help some, must be released to everyone in order to measure the size and scale of adoption to properly judge the validity of the claim?

• Given that some individuals report performance deficits as a result of using a new tool, do we need to modify the term universal, and the expectation, that an intervention will help everyone? Should we expect any one intervention, device, strategy to help everyone? Many? Most? Some?

Is Google Scribe a universal design in education (UDE) intervention? Any thoughts or comments?